Angkor Wat – one of the world’s greatest treasures

As Cambodia’s most famous icon and the pride of the nation, Angkor Wat impresses on a massive scale. It’s the central temple in Angkor, once capital of the old Khmer Empire, and also the largest religious monument in the world. Most people recognise the term Angkor Wat and know it to be a something of magnificence, however few realise that it’s one of many temples in the Angkor complex. Some of these are equal in splendour, but others are small or largely ruined – though these are often the better ones to visit as the hoards of tour-group tourists don’t venture to these temples.

I spent a few days in Siem Reap visiting the Angkor site. Twice by tuk-tuk – which is a fantastic, quick and easy way to explore the temples on the main circuit, and I also spent a day exploring on a bicycle – though because of Angkor’s vastness, it’s difficult to venture further afield. I visited all of the major sites, and many of the smaller ones – here it was enjoyable to simply soak up the surroundings away from all the other tourists. Angkor is gaining more and more visitors every year. As well as this endangering the already crumbling buildings, it also makes a visit less enjoyable when you have to duck and dive around a large Chinese tour group because they decide to stand in the middle of a small passageway, or take it in turns to have their photo taken in front of an iconic structure whilst everyone else has to patiently wait to get a shot with no one else in – like those we see in guidebooks. Oh how misleading they are.

Nonetheless, Angkor is indeed worth a couple of days visit – time to explore and find those less visited locations. Though these may not be featured in Tomb Raider (Angkor Thom was completely inundated with visitors it became suffocating – this is the famous crumbling temple covered in trees), or featured on the Cambodian flag (Angkor Wat), these help to paint a picture of how vast the ancient city was, and how devoted the people were to their religious worship. No houses or living quarters survive, as only the gods were worthy of living in the stone structures. Each temple is unique in design, carvings and size – every temple has something noteworthy to make a visit worth it. But no one can deny the immense beauty of the 5 iconic towers at Angkor Wat and the amazing feeling you get when walking down the promenade towards the temple – and imagining what it was like for the original inhabitants who walked the same path.

Every tourist who ventures here will start with sunrise at the most majestic temple – Angkor Wat. Though we were unlucky and didn’t actually see the sun rise, we saw the colours change and the temple gradually appear in the morning sun.


After the early 5am start, we explored the rest of the temple – visiting this early meant we avoided most tour-groups and only had the company of the other few hundred people who viewed the sunrise with us. The below picture shows an empty passageway within Angkor Wat, complete with a headless Buddha. Nearly all surviving statues throughout the Angkor complex are without their heads – most likely stolen by looters across the centuries.


A few of the temples are overgrown with trees, which twist and wind their way around the stone buildings. The first picture below shows the sheer size of some of these trees – can you spot me? The second is taken at Angkor Thom – I had to wait here patiently for quite a while to take a photo without anyone in it. This was by far the most congested temple we visited, it’s become so famous probably because it’s so over-run with trees and crumbling structures – which give it a rather unique look. Most guidebooks say this temple has an ethereal feel and surreal beauty about it, however this was somewhat ruined by the bus loads of Chinese tour groups, complete with identifiable flags.



My favourite temple by far was Bayon – the upper section is covered in large faces that have been carved out of the stone. I actually visited twice, the second time it was nearing sunset and so the number of visitors was significantly lessened. In some areas it felt like I was the only person there.



During the first visit to Bayon a truck fully loaded with a school of monks showed up. The little boys all hopped out with their teacher monks and set off to explore the temple – all clad in the distinctive brightly coloured orange. I managed to capture a photo of some of them standing in a doorway:


There were also a couple of entertainers dressed in the clothing used for traditional dances that were performed at Angkor festivals and religious events.


The sun was beginning to set as I cycled out of the grounds, my final view of Angkor Wat and the last photo I took in Cambodia is the below shot. The clouds had formed an unusual shape, and when reflected on the water the image captured looks like the wings of an angel. With the iconic Angkor Wat silhouetted in the distance, and the vibrant sunset colours, I do believe that this is my favourite picture taken here.


Angkor Wat, though incredibly touristy, provides a fascinating and totally unique experience. The whole area is alive with history, architectural beauty and stunning scenery. It was a fantastic way to finish my Asian adventures before setting off for Australia, and a place that every person visiting Cambodia should not miss.

A long boat journey from Battambang to Siem Reap

The boat ride from Battambang to Siem Reap, albeit much longer and less efficient than the bus (especially at this time of year when the water is extremely low), provides a fascinating journey through the beautiful Cambodian countryside. The sites to be seen are never-ending, and the photo opportunities abundant.


We passed through numerous floating towns – some are huge – and also small villages and farm houses dotted along the river.



Some of the people seem to live in tiny boats, others live in floating houses, or houses built on stilts for when the water is higher. There are also numerous fishing contraptions dotted along the river – though these don’t seem to be in operation at the moment because of the low season. See below picture:


Exploring Cambodia by boat really provides an interesting insight into rural life along the river, and the 10+ hour journey is well worth taking a day to do.


Do make sure you do this trip when it’s not New Year, or when the water is higher… The boat dumped us off far away from Siem Reap (because the water had completely dried up the rest of the way). This, as well as it being New Year (most of the tuk-tuk drivers were at home getting drunk), meant that it was extremely difficult to get into the centre – which was a 15km drive away. Luckily, myself and 2 others got lucky and we managed to find a willing driver – we guiltily left the other passengers behind – they could have waited hours! Despite this, it was an extremely fascinating and action-filled day.

Exploring Battambang

Battambang is the second biggest city in Cambodia and yet has a small town feel – it’s quiet, everything shuts early and it’s very sleepy. It’s great place to explore the surrounding countryside and relax for a few days.

On arrival I heading straight to the Bamboo train – one of the main tourist attractions in Battambang – and enjoyed a ride on the old train tracks. It’s a very strange but unique experience – to pass other trains they simply stop and dismantle the small vehicle, let the other pass, and place it back on the tracks. It takes you to a small village which is swarming with young children trying to sell bracelets, and then they immediately get angry if you buy one off someone else… This is such a touristy thing to do in the area – as locals no longer really travel like this – but it’s definitely a fun thing to do!


On my second day I hired a bicycle (for $1!) and cycled 25km through countryside to a small temple, with a couple of people I met in my hostel. It was incredible cycling along rustic lanes and past small homesteads filled with smiling and waving children – poverty is clearly rife here, but the people still seem incredibly happy and excited to see any Westerners in the area. We stopped at a buddhist temple and had long chats with some of the monks there – they’re very eager to practice their English!



We spent some time playing with two incredibly cute little girls outside their small home. The older one seemed intent on lifting her little sister up all the time, and they clearly enjoyed play fighting with each other. I managed to take some awesome photos of them both:



We cycled for hours in the blistering heat, and finally arrived at the temple a little too late… We were sweaty, hungry and very dusty, and the thought of cycling back 25km (probably in the dark) was a thought we dreaded. Thankfully, whilst trudging back along the main road, we managed to hitch hike twice which took us right back into Battambang. For one ride we shared the back of a tractor like contraption with a whole Cambodian family, plus our bikes, and they thoroughly enjoyed having us onboard! The locals seemed to find the site of westerners perched on the back of vans pretty amusing and we enjoyed many waves and smiles as we sped past. These were definitely great experiences that not many backpackers can boast enjoying!

Finally, here’s my photo of the day. We’d just got off our first hitch hike – and were dreading the continued bicycle ride back to Battambang. This woman had just popped out of her house to check on her washing and I asked her for a photo. She kindly obliged and held up her hands in a prayer position in front of her face. I tried to show her the photo but she pointed at her eyes – presumably almost blind – so instead I gave her my hand and she patted it, and kissed it. The emotions I felt behind this small gesture are indescribable. A simple image can display so much, the imagination runs wild with thoughts of what she may have experienced in her long life – a photo paints a picture that words can never do.


Visiting the Killing Fields and S-21

It’s difficult to describe these places and the emotions felt whilst visiting. The dark years in Cambodian history are little known throughout the globe – in ignorance I was actually unaware of these events until a few months ago.

The Khmer Rouge, led by the dictator Pol Pot, orchestrated one of the biggest genocides in human history. In effect, the country’s party started to kill it’s own people in order to create a society that would be self-sufficient and only working within agriculture. As a result Cambodians were forced to move from cities into countryside, to work long hours for little food and no pay, and could not profess to have sign of intellect or individually. From 1976 to 1979 the Khmer Rouge killed almost a third of the Cambodian population. They murdered intellectuals, city-dwellers, minority people, soldiers and members of their own party. They attempted to purge the population of anyone who had an education, and therefore could question the party’s ideals; over time they also killed innocent and random people who were ‘suspected’ of being traitors. They took children from parents and used them as the main force behind the torture and execution of thousands of innocent people – as children were easily influenced and controlled.

The Killing Fields is one of the predominant places where thousands of victims were taken and immediately murdered. Many mass graves have been excavated here and hundreds of skeletons found – many of these have been housed in a memorial building which is central to the complex. You can visit this and look upon the skulls of the Khmer Rouge victims – each categorised according to sex, age and cause of death. Walking around this beautiful place is a surreal experience. The audio guide provides fascinating but disgusting information about the events that occurred, and also first-hand descriptions from the torturers themselves. At the end you are played a section of harrowing music, mingled with a diesel engine that would have been played loud enough to drown out the screams of the terrified and dying people.

The below picture is taken from a fence that goes around one of the mass graves found – everywhere there are Buddhist prayer bracelets left as a sign of condolence and remembrance for the thousands of victims.


We then proceeded to S-21 prison, which was once a school until overtaken by the Khmer Rouge – since they closed all schools and places of education. This is the place where over 17,000 people were sent to be tortured about their so called traitor activities, and subsequently killed as a result. Only 7 survivors are said to have left the prison alive.

It’s a surreal and eerie place. Walking along the corridors that were once home to happy children, but became the site of nightmares. Rows and rows of pictures displaying a small proportion of the victim’s faces, mixed with images of the dead after torture. There are also pages and pages of so-called ‘confessions’ by those in the prison – many simply lied about their traitorous activities under duress.

You walk through rooms which hold a single bed (the below) and were used to torment the higher ranking victims. Then there are number of rooms holding numerous makeshift brick or wooden cells which gave the prisoners very little space to move – some of these still have dried smears and drops of blood on the floor. Walking amongst the dark cells felt so claustrophobic and at one point deathly quiet when I was by myself – I couldn’t stand the silence and the haunting feeling, and had to leave immediately. There are also empty rooms that were used to house hundreds of prisoners in rows – all shackled to the floor and left to lie and sit for days on end – eating, defecating and sleeping in the same spot.


The outside corridors are covered in barbed wire to prevent the desperate prisoners from committing suicide, and the gallows used for torture were once play ground items for the children’s exercise – this school come prison is one of the most terrifying places I have ever visited. An area of education, laughter and fun turned into a place of nightmares.


It was fascinating to visit and to learn more about the atrocities that went on in this 3 year period, but it was also very emotionally draining. Remnants of this terrible time are visible throughout Cambodia, but visiting these places helps us to understand more and remember those who suffered unjustly for a ludicrous cause.

A few days relaxing on a Cambodian Island

After a 14 hour bus journey from Vietnam I finally arrived at my first stop in Cambodia – Sihanoukville, a popular beach resort on the South coast. I stayed one night and then immediately hopped onto a boat bound for Koh Ta Kiev – a smaller island and lesser known than it’s neighbour, Koh Rong.

On the boat to Koh Ta Kiev

And so I spent the next few days relaxing at The Last Point – a new resort boasting it’s own beach. Waking up to the sunrise and fabulous views over the ocean was the perfect way to start the day. The dorm room is open so you can wake up, sit up in bed and look out over the sea – what bliss!


As well as the western staff that run Last Point, a Khmer family also look after the land and help with cleaning and cooking. This little girl was a sweetheart and daughter to one of the ladies in the family – I couldn’t resist taking a photo whilst playing with her.

Little girl

I met some really great people on the island. We hung out on the beach, chilled out at the bar, and walked across empty beaches and the jungle to the other side where we enjoyed lunch (with the below view) and a cold absinthe that was made on the island – who’d have thought Koh Ta Kiev would have an absinthe distillery!

Lunch with a view

Evenings were spent around the fire – enjoying the sound of the sea, a cold beer and some good company. I really didn’t want to leave. It was a fabulous place to unwind after a busy time travelling through Vietnam, and to prepare for a few weeks of exploring Cambodia by myself, having said goodbye to Maddy in Ho Chi Min City.

Koh Ta Kiev is a must visit for those who want to get away for a few days, but don’t want to experience the busy party-life of Koh Rong. It’s beautiful, relaxing and a great place to do absolutely nothing and not feel guilty. Stay at The Last Point – you won’t regret it.

Koh Ta Kiev Island

A day on the Mekong

My final day in Vietnam was spent taking a day trip to explore some of the Mekong Delta. Unfortunately as it was only for the day I didn’t get to fully experience life there – just the usual tourist trail – however it was still beautiful. If I had had more time I would definitely have travelled further South and explored the region in my own time.

The day was spent enduring a 6 hour round trip bus journey, exploring the floating markets and adjacent homes by boat on the Mekong, enjoying a Vietnamese lunch, learning about popping rice, and taking a traditional boat trip through the smaller rivers. The following is a small selection of photos from the day.

Exploring the floating river market:



The houses and shops that line the Mekong River:


Dressing up like the Vietnamese whilst enjoying a boat ride:



This day trip gives you a brief insight into life in the Mekong Delta, but I wish I could’ve spent longer here – to avoid the long day of travel, and to further experience the region – of the stunning scenery and culture it has to offer.

Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam and has a more Western feel than the other cities I visited. It’s a booming, busy place, with scooters zipping around, and an abundance of hip coffee places, bars and also parks. I quite enjoyed simply wandering around and lapping up the atmosphere in the city.

Park Bench

We did find that there isn’t a whole lot to do (tourist-wise) in the city centre. We checked out the brightly yellow painted Post Office and also the Notre Dame Cathedral – both clearly have some French influence.

Yellow Post Office

Our afternoon was spent visiting the War Remnants Museum, which is an incredibly informative but also biased museum displaying photos, artefacts and descriptions of the American War in Vietnam. Outside the museum there a number of aeroplanes, helicopters, tanks and guns that belonged to the American troops during the war – these also give you an idea of the scale of the invasion. It’s well worth a visit, but be prepared for the harrowing portrayal of the events that occurred during and as a result of the war.

Our hostel in HCMC – Vietnam Inn Saigon – was a really cool place to stay. At nine stories high its on a par with other hotels in the area, and the roof-top bar provides stunning views of the city – especially sunset and at night. The hostel is also right next to the main park, where locals do their exercise (especially badly played badminton), walk their dogs and take an evening stroll. This is a great place to take a seat and watch the world go by. It’s rather amusing watching people running or working out (on the free machines provided) in their normal clothes – sometimes it seems they’ve just come from work or fancied a quick session whilst out and about. On our first evening in the city Maddy and I were enjoying the surroundings when a young girl with 3 dogs approached us – we chatted to her for over half an hour, sharing stories and laughing about her dog’s antics. Another young family also came over to join in with the conversation – it was so amazing to chat to some local Vietnamese folk and to enjoy their company, plus I think they wanted to practice their English! This kind of hospitality hasn’t happened that often throughout Vietnam, it immediately felt like the people in HCMC were much more friendly.

This photo (although terrible) shows the sunset view from one side of the hostel’s rooftop bar – what an amazing way to end a day in the city!

Sunset over Saigon

Here’s a picture of Maddy with a guy who was selling coconuts. He was really eager to have his photo taken, despite the fact that we’d said no to buying something from him.


Saigon isn’t for everyone – it’s fast-paced, congested and somewhat smelly – however there’s no city quite like it – and I surprisingly enjoyed my short stay here.

Relaxing in Mui Ne

Mui Ne is a Vietnamese beach resort which has become popular with backpackers and Russians alike. As Maddy and I had decided to skip Nha Trang we decided to stop here for a few days instead. We stayed at a nice hostel, relaxed by the pool and enjoyed a beer whilst watching the wind and kite surfers out on the ocean.

Enjoying a beer

Windsurfers at Mui Ne

Despite this, there isn’t really much to Mui Ne. The beach is blocked from view as you’re walking along the road – you can only see endless resorts, restaurants and shops instead of the sea – and even then it’s difficult to catch a glimpse unless you’re staying at a premiere hotel or willing to pay for a meal or beer. To be able to access the so called ‘beach’ you have to walk quite far up this ugly road to get to it. And then… there’s Russian everywhere. This seems to be a top pick for a cheap Russian holiday getaway, and you can spot them a mile off.

I did spend half a day seeing the sites on offer around Mui Ne, including the nearby fishing village and sand dunes – which are both quite spectacular.

Fishing boats

Sunset on the sand dunes

All in all, it was nice to enjoy some pool time for a couple of days, however I wouldn’t really choose to visit this place again – there are definitely nicer beach resorts around!

Canyoning in Da Lat

The main reason that I visited Da Lat was to do the canyoning, and to stay at the Da Lat Family Hostel – which is a super crazy place run by a lovely Vietnamese family.

abseiling down a waterfall

Canyoning was amazing – scary at points, yes – but the adrenaline junky in me loved it. The day included abseiling down fiercely moving waterfalls, experiencing the ‘washing machine’ (hanging off a rock surface and lowering yourself into the churning water below, whilst a waterfall pummels you) sliding head first down streams, jumping off 11 metre high ‘cliffs’, and having loads of fun with newly made friends.



These photos were taken by the tour guide, and so aren’t my own, however they provide you with an idea of what we got up to on the epic day out!

Whilst in Da Lat I also visited the Crazy House – so called because… it’s crazy! The buildings are oddly shaped and look incredibly strange, there’s many nooks and crannies to hide from your friends inside, and scary staircases that snake around the outside of the deformed looking buildings. They seem to be expanding it and adding more hotel rooms, which is beginning to spoil it a little – but it’s still a unique house that is loved by tourists, but somewhat despised by the locals. Here’s a photo that gives you an idea of how ridiculous it really is.

Crazy House

Da Lat is definitely worth a stop between Nha Trang and Mui Ne / Ho Chi Min. There’s plenty of outdoor activities to do as well as canyoning – but we only stayed for the day. The Da Lat Family hostel is also pretty awesome. Every evening ‘Mamma’ prepares a meal that everyone sits down to enjoy – for a measly $2. Then you while away the evening drinking cheap beer and freshly made mojito’s whilst sharing canyoning stories with your new pals. The dorm room is also an experience – 15 mattresses all crammed into the loft like one big sleepover… but it was fantastic and I’d head back again in a heartbeat.

Hoi An – the heart of Vietnam

Hoi An is a beautiful and atmospheric town. The shops and restaurants are adorned with lanterns throughout the year, the buildings are painted a refreshing yellow, and there is an abundance of quirky restaurants and cafes selling delicious food and coffee. It’s a fantastic place to take a few days out on your backpacking trip, here’s a few things you simply must do when visiting Hoi An:

  • Book an inexpensive (but plush) hotel
  • Eat some fantastic street food and Hoi An specialities – including Cau Lau and Banh Bao Vac (White Rose)
  • While away the hours soaking up the culture whilst sipping an iced coffee and indulging in a delicious cake at our favourite place – Cargo Club
  • Wander along the harbour front after dark when the lit up coloured lanterns are dancing reflections in the water
  • Order a made-to-measure suit and do all of the above whilst waiting for it’s completion

Here’s the first of many photos in this post (Hoi An is too picture perfect!), it shows some of the buildings along the river front – all painted yellow of course.

Hoi An harbour

Hoi An is recognised as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. You simply have to walk down the streets and immediately you slip back in time. Most of the buildings are a few hundred years old, the river running through is dotted with boats, and still no cars drive down the small streets in the centre of the Old Town. It still looks as it may have done when the town was a thriving trading port in the 16th century, minus the tacky souvenir shops and hoards of tourists of course.

Bicycle against the yellow walls

Every month for the full moon the lights in the centre of the old town are turned off, the streets are closed to all scooters and bicycles, and the water is dotted with paper lanterns that are slowly floating down the river. While this does sound beautiful – and don’t get me wrong, it really is – it also does become extremely busy with locals competing with each other to sell lanterns to the international visitors. Here’s a couple of photos of the event:

Young children selling lanterns

Maddy's lantern

Whilst in Hoi An there is also some fantastic street food to be had. I sat down and tried a delicious BBQ chicken wrap, and also some dumpling style things, stuffed with seafood – I then watched and attempted to converse with the ladies, and was allowed to take a few photos of them preparing the food.

Ladies cooking

Vietnamese woman preparing dumplings

A heritage ticket purchased to help further fund the preservation of the ancient town allows you entry to five of the many old buildings, museums or tours around the town. We went in a few old temples, family houses and chapels – but to be honest, I don’t believe the 120,000VND is worth the money. The below photo was taken in a temple, and depicts a man re-painting the colourful columns. The architecture in these old buildings is definitely worth a look, as it’s often an amalgamation of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and also maybe European.


Hoi An is a wonderfully preserved ancient town, and is a completely different experience to that found elsewhere in Vietnam. It’s relaxing, beautiful and utterly unique. My final photo in this post nicely sums up Hoi An – the colourful lanterns that are on display every night in the old town.

Hoi An lanterns at night